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Construction to start in late spring on building project in the Virginia Bio+Tech Park

Friday, March 20, 2020  
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Plans are being finalized for a $52 million building project in the Virginia Bio+Tech Park in Richmond that would serve as a temporary home for growing young companies in technology and life sciences.

Construction should start in late spring on the nearly 100,000-square-foot, six-story building that would be built on East Leigh Street between North Seventh and North Eighth streets.

The project also calls for a 462-space parking deck at the corner of Seventh and Jackson streets, on the same block as the new building.

The building would house offices, laboratories, greenhouses and meeting spaces, all designed to help foster the success of startup technology companies that have moved beyond the earliest stages of development but still need support to continue growing.

“It is a one-of-a-kind space,” said Carrie Roth, president and CEO of Activation Capital and the Virginia Bio+Tech Park. “There is nothing like it in the region or the commonwealth. It is for next-stage growth of innovative and entrepreneurial companies.”

The project is part of a strategy by the Virginia Bio+Tech Park and Activation Capital, a nonprofit associated with the park, to move beyond the park’s traditional role as a manager of real estate. The goal is to become more of a catalyst for economic development by supporting startup companies and entrepreneurs throughout the Richmond area and Virginia.

Park officials hope the building will open by the third quarter of 2021. The projected cost of $52 million includes expenses for furniture, lab equipment and the new parking deck.

The site of the planned building is currently a two-acre, outdoor parking area for the Bio+Tech Park, which stretches over a 34-acre campus that houses about 70 businesses, nonprofits, government laboratories and research institutes as well as the administrative functions of Virginia Commonwealth University and VCU Health.

Startups would pay a membership fee to have space in the building, though the exact amount is still being determined.

“We need to continue to make sure it is priced at a point that we can support our [startup business] founders,” said Roth, adding that one goal is to help entrepreneurs remain in the Richmond region as their companies grow to where they are adding employees and scaling up their operations.

“That is part of the reason we are building it,” she said. “Too often, companies have to go and get a much larger space than what they need because that is what is available. Then they have to build out and they have unpredictable rates. That is a hard thing for an early-stage technology company. We are trying to help with that journey, to have more companies succeed in our region so that we don’t lose them to other places.”

Roth stressed that the incubator would be open to businesses across a range of science and technology-related fields, not just biotechnology. Examples would include health sciences, drug discovery, medical devices, data science and cybersecurity.

The building would serve as a kind of “step-up” space for companies from the park’s current incubator building on Leigh Street, which will continue to house early-stage companies.

The new building also would complement other business incubator spaces in the Richmond area that support startups in their earliest stages, such as Startup Virginia in the 1717 Innovation Center in Richmond’s Shockoe Bottom.

The Bio+Tech Park building would serve as a “short-term destination” for startup companies, Roth said.

“We want to support them with activities and programs to help them grow so they are ready to move to the next stage, which would be their own space,” she said.
It would be able to host public events and would have a rooftop lounge and a multipurpose room with large video screens for meetings of up to 250 people.

“We want to be able to bring thought leaders from around the country and the world, and obviously from around the commonwealth itself, to be able to share their entrepreneurial story and journey and how they can help support these communities,” Roth said.

The plans call for the exterior of the building to have a type of color-shifting material that changes color tones as the sunlight changes through the day.
SMBW Architects is the architect for the project. W.M. Jordan Co. is the construction manager,

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